Having a self-harm relapse

You thought you had your self-harming under control, but now you've started hurting yourself again and you're not sure why. The Mix looks at how to cope with a relapse.

Black and white, girl sat behind rain splattered window

Self-harming again doesn't mean you go back to square one.

Why am I self-harming again?

Self-harming again after not doing it for a while isn’t anything to be ashamed of – you haven’t suddenly become weak, you haven’t lost your will-power, and you haven’t let yourself – or anyone else – down. There could be a number of reasons why you’re hurting yourself again, and these may be subconscious.

Ask yourself:

  • Has a big event happened to you recently, like breaking up with someone you loved?
  • Have you lost someone special to you, or has a family member or friend been seriously ill?
  • Have you been injured in an accident or ill?
  • Have you been bullied at college, uni, or by people at work?
  • Have you felt stressed because of deadlines, too much work, or people asking a lot of you?
  • Have you felt depressed?
  • Have you been drinking a lot?
  • Have you been struggling with memories of distressing or traumatic events?

Trauma and self-harm relapse

Events such as death, injury or other trauma can trigger a rush of emotions, as can difficult situations you find yourself in.

“After a big event – like a loss of a friend or family member – you can become overwhelmed with different feelings,” says Lisa Clark, Personal Health and Social Education (PHSE) practitioner. “You might be sad at the loss of someone you love, feel angry that they’ve left you and loneliness at the space they’ve left in your life. These emotions can affect your self-esteem, knocking your confidence and making everyday tasks much harder than they normally would be.”

Have you got emotional overload?

It can be really difficult to deal with lots of emotions at once and you may feel like your head is going to explode. Self-harming can be one way you deal with this – to relieve the pressure. If there has been a negative event, such as a parent leaving, this can result in your self-esteem dropping without you even realising. You might not feel as confident about handling situations, so self-harming becomes a release you return to.

Does self-harm help you cope?

When problems feel unmanageable it can be easy to return to ways of responding to pressure that you have used before – even if they are self-destructive. If this is the case, and returning to self-harming for a while is what helps you deal with the world, then think about how you can go about it as safely as possible.

How do I recover after a self-harm relapse

Think about the things that helped you stop or control your self-harm before. These strategies have already worked for you and may work again. You may have found particular distraction techniques useful so you could try them again or try different ones.

Remember: you’re not the only one who has gone back to self-harming after stopping, so don’t see this as a step back, see it as a temporary coping mechanism you used to get you through a tough time.

Only when you’re ready to stop, and when you feel able to cope with what life is throwing at you, can you start getting back on track. Looking after yourself generally is important – eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise can all play a useful part in this. A good way to de-stress, Lisa suggests, is to: “Get outside, take in some fresh air and exercise, even if it’s just a brisk walk. Any exercise gets the feel-good hormones, endorphins, pumping round your body and makes you feel happier and more positive.”

Don’t bottle it up

“If life becomes hard to deal with, don’t keep your thoughts and feelings bottled up,” explains Lisa. “Keep a journal or diary to dump all your negative thoughts in. Write in it before bed so you’re able to sleep, and as soon as you wake up so you’re able to face the day. Once you’ve written out all the bad stuff, be sure to find at least three things to be thankful for too – it’ll help keep things in perspective. If writing isn’t your bag, get creative with your thoughts and channel it into a painting, doodles or drawing.”

Finally, try to talk to someone you can trust – a friend, brother, sister, grandparent, parent, teacher, school nurse, social worker or doctor (GP).

Next Steps

  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • Under 19? You can get confidential help with self-harm from ChildLine – either over the phone or through an online chat.
  • Anyone can contact the Samaritans on their 24-hour helpline to talk things through. 116 123
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.



By Anthony Burt

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

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